Jeffrey is lost. Something isn’t right about this place. No matter which direction he goes, he ends up back at the vegetable garden fence. The grass between the fence and the dirt road here is freshly cut. He sits down, not caring that grass makes him itchy, replaying the afternoon in his mind. Searching for any clue that explains his situation. **
Earlier that day . . .
The road is narrow and clings to the side of the mountain in a way that makes Jeffrey appreciate engineering. He’s never really thought about engineering, so ubiquitous in the city, and he probably shouldn’t be thinking about it here either, on a road so winding and unknown.
The ocean views from this height are majestic, though majestic doesn’t quite have the same effect in peripheral vision. His eyes are focused on the road, and his knuckles are a shade more pale than usual where they grip the steering wheel. About forty miles ago they lost cell service.
Felicia is looking at a map. The printed kind which unfolds and has little holes where the creases meet. A relic back from when people bought maps and kept them in glove compartments. Jeffrey is one of those people. She just informed him that one of the holes happens to be where they think they are.
Maybe we are working too much. Maybe we just need to unplug for a few days. Reconnect with nature. It was his idea. We’ve never gone camping Jeffrey. We aren’t camping people. He kept bringing it up in therapy and eventually she rolled her eyes and said Okay, fine, let’s go.
For most of the drive things between them have been tense but tolerable. The way they get between couples when no one says what they are really thinking for a few years in a row.
Jeffrey slams on the brakes.
About fifty feet ahead the highway is missing, presumed to have fallen off the side of the cliff and into the ocean below. The road simply ends at a sharp jagged edge. A few cones stand guard, covered in dust, their colors faded to an unalarming beige. Jeffrey’s appreciation of engineering instantly wanes.
“You’re kidding me . . . What the hell, Jeffrey!?” Felicia tries to throw the map at him but it just folds over her arms and tears more.
“Let’s stay calm, please. Freaking out is not going to help the situation.”
Jeffrey backs up the car a few feet and turns onto a dirt road leading inland.
“What are you doing? Turn the car around.”
“I want to see where this goes, maybe we can get around this. We can turn around soon if we have to. Don’t worry please.”
The road veers to the right before it downgrades to just two worn strips of earth. Other vehicles have driven here, but green grass is growing down the center, its height somewhat unsettling. Jeffrey feels sweat form on his upper lip as he concentrates on keeping the tires on the tracks. Cold coffee splashes out of a travel mug as the car lurches over the uneven terrain.
Felicia exhales. Then she unplugs Jeffrey’s phone and puts the cable into hers.
“The phones are dead. Stop the car.”
She sounds calm compared to her typical tone of mild agitation.
Jeffrey stops without pulling over, as there is no shoulder. The car idles as he confirms that his phone won’t turn on. He pulls out the charger cable and plugs it into each phone several times, his confidence waning with each insertion. Nothing happens. No lightning bolt. No reassuring beep.
A ding sound beeps four times.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” says Jeffrey.
They just filled the tank in a sleepy town about an hour ago. Felicia stares at the gas light that has just come on, her face is a mix of bewilderment and disgust.
He puts down the dead phones and rubs his clammy hands on his water resistant khaki pants. Then he turns off the engine and steps out of the car, looking for signs of a gas leak. He walks a few yards back along the road and brushes his hand along the long grass that grows at the center. No scent of gasoline. Just a sweet vanilla smell. The wind moves between the hills and blows away some grass seeds.
He gets back into the car. Felicia is looking straight ahead, with a blank look on her face. Some of her long black hair hangs in front of her eyes.
“We don’t have a leak.” He says.
“I don’t even know you. How can I not know someone I’ve been living with for six years? What have we been doing? I’m going to go pee.”
She laces up her new hiking boots and reaches around to grab her backpack. Despite her words, Jeffrey is relieved that she isn’t hysterical. Maybe this trip will be a breakthrough for them from the stagnation they’ve both been feeling. Some wild experience that brings them closer together in the end. He’s feeling hopeful.
Just before she shuts the door, Felicia leans back into the car and whispers.
“I’m not coming back.”
She swings the car door shut, and looks towards the sun. Then she sets off, at a determined pace, up the side of the grassy hill. Jeffrey watches her hike up to the top and disappear over the crest.
He turns off the engine and sits for a moment. Maybe she’s joking or just more pissed off than he’s ever seen her, or some tricky combination of both. He sits there for a few minutes, expecting his reliable brain to come up with some obvious solution to their situation. It doesn’t. He’s blank. He grabs his jacket, locks the car, and walks up the green hill to find her.
There are holes in the side of the hill, the kind made by cattle at some point in time, and Jeffrey has to watch his footing. At the top, the view opens up to the west, where the sun is hanging low near the crest of another grassy hill. He cannot see the ocean from here, or any sign of Felicia. He figures she must have gone further, and imagines her sitting serenely on the other side of the next hill, looking out over the Pacific.
He hikes up the slope in front of him, his heart rate elevated, his mind still circling for some brilliant idea about what they should do. The circling stops when he reaches the top. No Felicia. No ocean. Just another grassy hill.
He can’t make sense of it. They had only driven a short distance down the dirt road. A wave of nausea creeps up on him. Too much coffee, not enough protein.
“Don’t panic. Go back to the car. She will come back there.”
Jeffrey says this out loud to reassure himself. He runs back down the hill and back up the first. At the top, he sits down abruptly to stop himself from fainting. He sees the dirt road, but not the car. Jeffrey has read about people getting confused under extreme stress. It’s possible he’s lost his sense of direction, even though that has never ever happened to him before, ever. He makes his way to the dirt road and follows the tire tracks, trying to ignore his awareness that none of them are fresh.
After a few minutes of walking, the grassy hills meet the edge of a forest. There’s a weathered picket fence surrounding a quaint vegetable garden. **
Later that Day . . .
Jeffrey is lost. Something isn’t right about this place. No matter which direction he goes, he ends up back at the vegetable garden fence. The grass between the fence and the dirt road here is freshly cut. He sits down, not caring that grass makes him itchy, replaying the afternoon in his mind. Searching for any clue that explains his situation.
He is having trouble recollecting the events of the day. It is getting dark now, and colors glow with vibrant hues of twilight. The dirt on the road shines like copper. There is a warm breeze that is slightly humid. It makes the leaves on the trees quiver. Everything around him feels so alive. He takes off his shoes and socks, and rubs his pale feet, blistered and sore from hours of walking. A lone cricket chirps once, somewhere very close to him.
Jeffrey stands up slowly, barefoot on the grass, and stares at the garden. He doesn’t recognize any of the plants. He’s not even sure they are vegetables. A patch of lush feathery leaves, that are almost blue, has its own little wire fence and a wooden sign. In the fading light, Jeffrey leans over and reads the sign. Hope.
Earlier that day . . .
Half a mile offshore, Chip kneels on the deck of an old cutter, pulling a rope up from the water. The choppy waves slap the hull. Small patches of faded paint and fragments of words are all that is left from the coast guard insignia that wore off decades ago. He looks up just in time to see the car plummet off the broken highway and into the white water at the base of the cliff.
Chip stands up and waits a few seconds for the pain in his knees to subside. He steps over nets and a pile of old license plates.
In the galley, he takes a bite of his ham sandwich as he picks up the handset to the radio, still chewing.
“Ursula, this is Firewall.”
“Firewall this is Ursula.”
“We have another diver at Hope Edge. Blue Sedan. Over.”
“Standby Firewall. Sending the cleaners. Busy this time of year. Over.”
*This short story emerged as a result of an exploration. For over ten years, I’ve used my personal development blog (Live My Best Life) as a platform for articles on relationships, mindfulness, time management, etc. *
As my writing evolves, I am more aware of the limitations of non-fiction and casual blogging. They are not the best vehicles for navigating the mysterious and nuanced terrain of the human heart and mind. How many fiction writers have arrived here by this road?
Hope’s Edge is a story about dying from lack of connection, perhaps both literally and figuratively. But I don’t want to get too cerebral about it, because it’s about the dangers of that too.
These days, I’m about to finish a novel that explores the tension between commitment (long term relationships) and sovereignty. Also excited to learn web3, so here I am.
If you enjoy my writing, take a moment to subscribe. To encourage me, collect my work. I will celebrate by buying myself a latte. I will drink that latte while sitting in the sun and thinking of you, then I will come home and write more.
- Magdalena Anna, April 2023